Note: Some elements of this review have been taken from my theatrical review of Land of the Lost, although it's mostly different.
It pains me greatly to say that Universal had a terrible summer, and second in the studio's string of bombs (following Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell) was Land of the Lost, currently limping onto DVD and Blu-Ray hoping that somehow, some way, it might scrape back another chunk of its massive budget. I can't imagine why Universal spent so much money on the movie in the first place: only four films starring Will Ferrell have ever grossed more than $100 million at the box office, numbers that start with Elf and progressively shrink. Even then, $100 million is still not even close to the $300 million the old "production-budget-times-three" rule says Land of the Lost would need to go into the black. Surprisingly, there was an almost mythical $300 million return on a comedy movie this year, but it definitely wasn't Land of the Lost.
Confusion about the movie's tone didn't help either. Land of the Lost has some scope to it, but it really isn't anything like the 1970's Saturday morning original, and I don't think the previews did enough to discourage fans from thinking they'd be getting a mostly-straight adaptation. It's also not a Jurassic Park-style adventure film, which the PG-13 rating may have inadvertently implied. PG-13 films have become sort of "family friendly" amidst the rise of the superhero movie, but I doubt the families who saw Iron Man were expecting Land of the Lost's masturbation jokes and stoner references (not that I blame Universal for that one; PG-13 still means "Parents Strongly Cautioned", plus, these days you even get the reasoning listed too, so yes, parents, it's your fault for just assuming the film would be clean and wholesome). Mostly, though, I wonder where the intended audience was. Land of the Lost is not a number of things -- a four-quadrant hit, high-brow, thought-provoking, innovative -- but it's also not worthy of the derision (or at least disinterest) it received from Ferrell's fans, and it is, I think (like most of Universal's 2009 "failures"), a pretty entertaining movie.
When I saw the film in theaters, I wondered if people might just be Ferrelled out: the guy's starred in 12 pictures in the past six years. Personally, I like Dr. Rick Marshall because he's actually smarter than the blowhards that Ferrell usually plays. It's not reinventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but being self-aware of his own limitations gives Ferrell a chance to be bitingly sarcastic in a way that he doesn't usually get to do as a boob or a moron. Marshall is the opposite of Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby: he's been laughed at before, and is already prepared to be laughed at again. Even so, Ferrell's delivery and style haven't changed a bit, so even though Marshall isn't a burned-out sports player, it really shouldn't seem like some sort of betrayal towards any of the Ferrell faithful. Criticizing his performance in Land of the Lost in comparison to his work in, say, Step Brothers or Semi-Pro is a bit of a stretch.
The story concerns one of Marshall's inventions called the tachyon amplifier, which allows the user to move not backwards or forwards through time, but sideways into an alternate dimension. Actually, the Land of the Lost is more like a dimension shoved down in the crack between dimensions, with junk haphazardly falling down into a pile of artifacts from both past and present. One of the movie's best sequences is set in a grand valley full of sights and sounds ranging from medieval catapults to Hummer limos, which director Brad Silberling shoots with just the right amount of straight-faced action intensity to make it both funny and exciting. The movie isn't really aiming to be a thrill ride, but this one particular sequence is well-timed from beginning to end (Ferrell closes the scene off with one of my favorite line deliveries in the movie).
Land of the Lost hangs together even more loosely than an Apatow film, lacking any real stretches devoted to the movie's silly plot. Comedy and special effects are also a tricky mix, but Silberling insists on big sets, costumes and cleverly-chosen props to mix in with the various CG elements, giving the actors things to bounce off of. Some people will feel this technique is lazy screenwriting, but to me all of these decisions just make room for more riffing, which these actors excel at. There's a drug-trip sequence at a half-there hotel pool involving giant crab ("That's not an answer, Chaka, that's your name."), and Ferrell and McBride offer up some good jabs at the sight a giant crystal ("This is where our ancestors hosted the Latin Grammys"). People have also complained about the gross-out factor of the scene where Marshall covers himself in hadrosaur urine. I think Ferrell performs the scene with excellent timing; that Marshall drinks some may go a little too far, but Ferrell's line immediately afterward is hilarious. It's also worth singling out The Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone as Chaka. He's easy to ignore, since he's covered in full body makeup and speaks a language only Holly (Anna Friel) understands, but he both claims and inspires some of the movie's best jokes ("Are you saying chorizo tacos?" "Don't play around, because I am super hungry right now."). Ferrell also makes time to sing a nice rendition of the "Land of the Lost" theme song, and everyone gets to perform some of "I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line.
Between this and my theatrical review, and the fact that it's just a Will Ferrell movie, there's really only so much to say about Land of the Lost before someone should just watch the movie, and I still think a viewer going in without any expectations should have a pretty good time. Maybe the movie isn't necessary, but I'm not here to complain about what could have been instead, just to assess what is, and I personally would pick Land of the Lost over some of Ferrell's other movies. It's a weird little comedy that feels like it belongs in the universe it depicts, a film that got pushed to the side and eventually fell through the cracks. Plus, it has a cameo by Leonard Nimoy as the voice of a red Sleestak named The Zarn. Leonard Nimoy!
Land of the Lost comes in my least-favorite type of slipcover, with the shiny (but not actually glossy) finish and embossed features. Underneath, the cover art is a little too colorful for my tastes. I guess the film is colorful too, but, well, it looks like Universal's DVDs for the original TV show. Above in the body of the review I said Universal could have more to show that the movie was unlike the show, but that doesn't mean their advertising was making the movie look similar, just that it wasn't stressing the difference, and even then fans still went to see it and generally voiced their strong displeasure. Obviously, now is not the time for Universal to start drawing obvious parallels between the two.
The Video and Audio
This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is as excellent as you would expect a transfer of a brand-new movie to look. Fine detail is great, blacks are deep, colors are vivid and I didn't see any edge enhancement or artifacts. I may have detected a brief touch of posterization when Marshall is with his students, but I might be imagining it.
As far as audio goes, the primary track is of course English Dolby Digital 5.1, but you also get French and Spanish in 5.1 and Descriptive Video Sound in 2.0. Land of the Lost provides a pretty diverse soundscape that ranges from exploding dinosaurs to A Chorus Line, and, like the picture, it's all excellently reproduced on this brand new DVD of a brand new film. Even on standard def (and this being a Will Ferrell comedy), both the video and audio pack a real demo-material punch. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subtitles are also included, as well as on all the video bonus features (no subtitles for the commentary).
3 deleted scenes (7:28) are provided, with and without commentary by director Brad Silberling. The first one is an entirely alternate scene of Marshall talking to kids. It's pretty funny, makes a little more sense than the final version (why would Marshall tell a bunch of sixth-graders about his invention?), and sets up what would have been to a callback if both jokes had been left in. Silberling claims it takes too long, but the difference is negligible; my guess is that further usage of the word "blows" forced a cut to qualify for a PG-13. As for the other two, there's a funny line and a hilarious ending, respectively, but only the first one is all that notable. Silberling mentions an extended cut on the track for the last scene, which I'd love to see, but I kind of doubt that it's going to happen.
"A Day in the Life of a Big Time Movie Star" (11:14), or "A Day in the Life of Big-Time Movie Star Danny McBride", if you go by the packaging, is a funny, sketch-like featurette with Danny, Will, Jorma, Anna and Brad, packed to the gills with awkward comedy. It's followed by "Devil's Canyon Gift Shop Comercial and Tour" (6:51), which looks primed for YouTube ("Objet D'Art"), and contains several good ad-libs from McBride and a hilarious bit with Will.
Finally, a feature-length audio commentary is provided by director Brad Silberling. No reference to the movie's box-office failure is made, suggesting it was recorded shortly after final cut was completed, and it's kinda disappointing that Will Ferrell isn't around to join him (since the comedian has recorded commentaries for most of his movies). Silberling talks extensively about changes from the show, explaining his reasoning for the various choices that confounded fans when the movie was in theaters. For my money, his reasoning is generally pretty sound, although if you didn't like the movie, I suppose it doesn't change any of the final product. He also points out perhaps surprising references to 2001, Apocalypse Now, My Name is Ivan (!?) and 2 Girls 1 Cup. It's not the most animated commentary you'll ever hear, but to his credit, the guy is reasonably engaging, and almost never stops talking (no gaps on this track). He mentions the extended (perhaps unrated) cut again during his chat. It'd be nice to think that it's in his contract, and maybe that's the version that will end up with a Silberling/Ferrell commentary, or even better, a Silberling/Ferrell/McBride/Friel commentary. Then again, I think I'd be the only one who'd buy it.
Trailers for Despicable Me, Bionicle: The Legend Reborn, the horrid-looking Wildchild, Drag Me to Hell, "30 Rock": Season 3 and a spot for Universal Blu-Ray play before the menu.
I liked Land of the Lost in theaters, and I still like it on the DVD, which looks and sounds great, and includes a small but alright set of bonus features. It's worth knowing that the BD has almost two hours of additional extras (including a full-length doc, more deleted scenes and an interview with the Kroffts), so if you liked the movie and you have a BD player, you'll probably want to pick that up instead, but for standard-def fans, this DVD is recommended, as long as you check it out with a reserved level of expectation.
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